The same ordinary Scotch tape that you have in your desk drawer and secretly take home with you played a key role in Watergate and saved Apollo 13. Really! And would you like to know what tape has to do with tree frogs?
1/ It All Started With Crazy Car Lovers
It’s the 1920s, and fans of thundering two-stroke machines have gone crazy for two-color body paint. The employees of paint shops are going crazy too, because with the tools of the era, separating the two colors is almost beyond their abilities. After two years of experiments, the young Richard Gurley Drew delivers an ideal solution, in the form of tape that doesn’t let paint through, doesn’t rip away the original coat, and doesn’t leave marks. (But the invention behind the invention here is adhesive tape, invented by the surgeon Horace Day in 1845.)
There’s no doubt who’s the world’s biggest tape fans—it’s the inhabitants of Avon, Ohio, who’ve been organizing a “Duck Tape Festival” since 2005. Visitors can find tape statues, a tape fashion show, and even a parade of giant tape figures.
3/ Did You Know What Started Watergate?
A bit, or rather a lot, of political dirt has also stuck to tape over the years. A tiny bit of tape is what first revealed Watergate. On July 17th, 1972, the night watchman Frank Wills went on his usual rounds of the Watergate complex, home to the Democratic Parties’ offices, as he had so many times before.
Unlike on other days, the latch on one door was covered with tape, so that it only appeared to be locked. He had the thought that perhaps the repairmen who had been working there that day might have forgotten it, and so he ripped it off. But when he also discovered it on the latch during his next watch, Wills notified the police, and a scandal of unprecedented size broke through.
4/ Phones and Tree Frogs
Tape is still used to this day to prevent breakthroughs and leaks. For example (once again) water—tape can keep water from leaking into your phone, in several different ways. In the future, this same aim might be served by the recently-discovered superomniphobic tape, which resists all liquids and oils and can even be stuck to rough surfaces. Meanwhile, what inspired a team of scientists in Kanpur, India to develop a nearly immortal tape that can be reused repeatedly without losing its characteristics? Tree frogs’ toe pads.
5/ Tape Saves (and Takes) Lives
The next time you’re begging your office manager for a roll of tape, throw in a note that a little roll of tape like that saved the lives of the astronauts on Apollo 13. You can find a step-by-step guide to remounting square CO2 filters from your home spaceship onto the round filters in a lunar module here. Besides carpet tape, you’ll need, for example, socks—just like the Apollo 13 astronauts did. Hopefully things won’t turn out like they did when tape killed 70 people and wrecked a Boeing 757.
Bonus: Tape Life Hacks
For other interesting tape tricks, watch this video, which has a full nine of them. You’ll also learn to create things like cool transparent drinking-glass labels for your office kitchen!